Elite mediator talks philosophy
Top Palang Pracharath Party negotiator Thammanat Prompao takes inspiration from evenings spent 'hula hooping', writes Wassana Nanuam
Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) heavyweight Thammanat Prompao likens his work and the criticism he faces on a daily basis, which sometimes land him in hot water, to maintaining control of a hula hoop.
The trust he receives from the pro-regime PPRP to clear up conflicts in and outside the party, mixed with his long-standing image as an "influential figure", as well as doubts over why he defected from the rival Pheu Thai Party, have made Capt Thammanat a high-profile figure in Thai politics.
His hit the headlines last week when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told the media that he assigned Capt Thammanat to talk to PPRP MPs from the South and Northeast who had called for a slice of the cabinet portfolio in the next government.
After the talks, the MPs said they had not demanded the ministerial seats but just expressed concern over how they will help the government solve people's problems. They said they were satisfied after the party agreed to give them more vice minister and ministerial adviser positions.
"Playing a hula hoop has taught me a lesson about life," Capt Thammanat told the Bangkok Post, referring to his favourite evening exercise.
That is the time when Capt Thammanat finds himself alone, free from the stresses and strains of his job, and free to focus wholly on his hobbies -- running on a treadmill and playing with his hula hoop.
"A hoop that turns round and round the body without falling is like the way we handle problems and worries in life," the Phayao MP and chief of PPRP's strategic committee in the North said philosophically.
"We have to think about how to keep a good balance without letting anything fall."
One worry that has trailed him since he left the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party is the scolding he got from Phayao villagers who disagreed with his decision, Capt Thammanat admits.
The 54-year-old politician says he understood his supporters' anger, considering their strong ties with Pheu Thai, but Capt Thammanat insists he did it for a good cause.
"I have one clear goal in mind, and that is to develop my home province," said the former Pheu Thai party-list MP candidate, adding the PPRP offered him the best avenue to achieve this.
With the PPRP, Capt Thammanat said he has received "honour and trust", from the phu yai, or senior figures, to help them form the government and eventually realise development projects in villagers such as his own.
In Phayao, where Capt Thammanat attended the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School and Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, things have rarely changed for locals over the past 50 years.
"I returned there as a successful businessman, but seeing their lives, I really felt sorry for them. Some still lived in old deteriorating houses," he said.
Capt Thammanat, who is often connected with late former army heavyweight Gen Trairong "Seh Ice" Intararat, played down criticism of the "mafia" image which has followed him into the political arena.
"The word 'mafia' in my view is not as dark as many think," Capt Thmmanat said.
"Mafia means someone who has connections with many people and who keeps his word."
These are the characters of a person who can clear up conflicts and make reconciliations between rival parties, he says.
It is his skills of negotiation that the PPRP has harnessed to solve disagreements among its party MPs over their minister quota. The same type of disputes with PPRP's allies have been also toned down with Capt Thammanat's help.
"That's my style," he said. "I'm a more giver than receiver and always keep my word."
Reportedly his contributions to the party earned him one ministerial seat but he decided to pass it on to his younger brother Akkara, a former deputy chairman of the Phayao provincial administrative organisation.
Of this decision, Capt Thammanat would only say that he "thanked phu yai for giving us the opportunity," and was "ready to do whatever my boss orders".
According to political observers, Capt Thammanat made the decision to pass on the cabinet to his brother over concerns about his public image.
But no matter what hindrances he may encounter at work, Capt Thammanat says he is used to overcoming adversity.
When he worked as a real estate developer, his company won a bid to run Klong Toey Market in Bangkok but faced protests from vendors who fear the new management would affect their jobs.
But the problem did not cause Capt Thammanat to give up. Instead, he showed his sincerity to reorganise the market and make it a more pleasant place for shoppers.
"Now when I go there, many sellers thank me and give me food and fruits," he said.
It's this gentle art of persuasion that he says he brings to politics, an arena where he will never let his hula hoop fall.